Walker & Leon Stymied By State Democratic Party Endorsement Of Torres

BLOOMINGTON – In a development of some significance to the impromptu Larry Walker and Paul Leon State Senate campaigns, Assemblywoman Norma Torres has captured the California Democratic Party’s endorsement in the race for the post.
In getting the state party nod, Torres outmaneuvered both Walker and his primary political patron in the ongoing effort, Congresswoman Gloria-Negrete-McLeod.
It was Negrete-McLeod’s ascendency to Congress, made possible by her come-from-behind victory over incumbent Congressman Joe Baca in California’s 35th Congressional District in November, that created the vacancy in the 32nd State Senatorial District. State Senators serve four-year terms. Negrete-McLeod was elected to the 32nd post in 2010 and her departure for Washington, D.C. means an election must now be held to determine who will serve out the two years remaining on her State Senate term.
The political jockeying and calculating has been intense. Six entered the fray, including four Democrats and two Republicans.  The Democrats are Torres, San Bernardino County Auditor-Controller-Treasurer Larry Walker, Ontario Councilman Paul Vincent Avila and Rialto Unified School District Board Member Joanne Gilbert. The Republicans are Ontario Mayor Paul Leon and Pomona Planning Commissioner Ken Coble.
The district, which entails all of Pomona in Los Angeles County, and all of Bloomington, Fontana, Montclair, Muscoy, Ontario, and Rialto as well as parts of Colton and San Bernardino in San Bernardino County,  is a solidly Democratic leaning one, with more than 48 percent of the voters registered as Democrats and 32 percent registered Republican. Thus, it is widely assumed that the winner who will emerge when all is said and done will be a Democrat.
If on March 12, the date of the specially called election, one candidate fails to garner a majority of the vote – meaning at least fifty percent plus one vote  – then a run-off between the two top vote-getters will be held. Some Republicans had hoped that the four Democrats in the race will sufficiently divide the Democratic vote, leading to a scenario in which Leon and Coble are the last two candidates left standing.
A second hopeful calculation Republicans have made was that Walker would best Torres and the other Democrats, while Leon would poll a significant majority of the Republican vote, leading to a match-up between Walker and Leon. In addition to the 32nd District being one in which voter registration favors the Democrats, by another demographic measure it is also solidly Hispanic. Within the district, Latino candidates, or at least ones with Hispanic surnames, have fared well against candidates of other ethnicities. In this way, Leon and other Republicans have made no secret of their belief that in a head-to-head contest against Walker, Leon, a Latino, and the GOP could take back one more seat in the state legislature’s upper chamber.
Such a coup seemed possible because of the bad blood that exists between Negrete-McLeod and Torres.
Torres, who was formerly the mayor of Pomona, offended Negrete-McLeod when she endorsed Baca in last year’s Congressional race. Baca, like Negrete-McLeod and Torres, is a Democrat. Negrete-McLeod and Baca found themselves slugging it out for a berth at the Nation’s Capitol because of California’s open primaries, which allow voters to cross party lines during the primary and for the top two vote-getters in the primary, regardless of party affiliation, to qualify for the run-off in the general election in November. At the time Torres made her endorsement of Baca it appeared to be a safe move. He had soundly outpolled Negrete-McLeod in the primary run and enjoyed the status of incumbency. But in the weeks leading up to the November 6 vote, New York Mayor Richard Bloomberg, a Republican, vectored more than $5 million from his Super Political Action Committee, Independence USA, to support McLeod and oppose Baca. Following a blitz of television ads and mailers that denounced Baca in the final days of the race, Baca lost by a margin of 56 percent to 44 percent.
Negrete-McLeod, asserting that “elections have consequences,” has reportedly made much or all of the money remaining in her state electioneering fund, which cannot be used in her campaign for Congress, available to Walker, himself a former county supervisor and Chino mayor. It thus appears that Walker, who has his own fundraising capability, will be able to match or exceed Torres in her fundraising.
The state party’s endorsement of Torres, however, severely complicates Walker’s position, as he will run head on into the teeth of the Democratic electioneering machinery if he is going to engage in a Negrete-McLeod bankrolled negative campaign against Torres. A more staid campaign, in which both Walker and Torres stick to the basics of touting their own previous accomplishments and records without resorting to slamming one another, would potentially result in each garnering enough votes to put them in a run-off against one another.
On her end, Torres sounded as if she were prepared to run just such a campaign.
“I am so proud to have gone through this endorsement process,” she said. “We are going to be running a very positive and very energetic campaign.”
On the Republican side, Torres’ success in getting the support of her party was equally troubling to the Leon camp, which was banking on a Donnybrook between Torres and Walker as a major part of its success formula.
Leon has already captured the endorsements of a number of Republican heavyweights, including Congressman Gary Miller, State Senator and Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff, former State Senator and Senate Republican Leader Bob Dutton, State Senator Bill Emmerson, San Bernardino County supervisors Gary Ovitt and Janice Rutherford, and Ontario councilmen Jim Bowman and Alan Wapner. Salivating at the prospect of getting into a run-off with Walker to test the yet-to-be-fully-developed Republican formula of fielding Hispanic Republican candidates in Democrat-leaning but heavily Hispanic-populated districts, Leon three weeks ago had set for himself the goal of raising $1.5 million to carry out his impromptu campaign for state senator. Given that only three more weeks now remain before he would need to have that campaign cash in hand to begin employing it in earnest, that goal may be a bit optimistic, especially now that potential Republican donors see that Torres and Walker are less likely to lock onto one another in a mutual dance of destruction.
Nevertheless, Leon’s operatives are out on the hustings, militating on Leon’s behalf, most recently, it has been reported, in an effort to convince Coble to drop out of the race so that Leon can monopolize the Republican vote.
Lost in the excitement and fanfare were Avila, who is running a campaign that has no funding to speak of, and Gilbert, who was the only Democratic candidate who competed with Torres for the votes of Democratic Party delegates, who had come together at the Teamsters Union Local 166 headquarters in Bloomington on January 26 to hear Torres and Gilbert’s respective pitches for their support.
Following the vote that went in her favor, Torres said, “I am pleased to have walked away with the support of the delegates. We are moving ahead with our campaign. We need a representative that is in the trenches with the community, working to address the real issues, which are huge job losses that we have had and the issue with home foreclosures in the area. I am confident I will be elected with both Democratic and Republican votes.”
If no victor emerges on March 12, a run-off will be held on May 14.

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